William Gadsby's Letters (Complete)

The Unity Of The Church

A Letter To Mr. C. W. Ethelston, M.A.

Fellow Of The Collegiate Church In Manchester, Rector Of Worthenburt, And Minister Of St. Mark’s Chapel, Cheltham.

Sir,—You perhaps will pardon an obscure individual for venturing to make a few remarks upon your pamphlet, entitled “The Unity of the Church,” &c. I can assure you, Sir, that the unity of the church is a subject of such importance that I cannot conceive how it is possible for any real minister of Christ to lose sight of it.

Union to Christ, and to one another, as the blessed members of his mystical body, is a doctrine pregnant with incalculable importance; and were I disposed to ground what I have to say upon this subject upon anything but the word of God, I would cite a passage out of your own wonderful performance (page 45) “In advocating such a cause, tameness would be cowardice, supineness criminal.” You will, Sir, at once perceive that were I disposed to take your own words for a motto, any apology would be superfluous; and as I am not overburdened with compliments, 1 shall, without any further ceremony, begin my remarks.

You tell us, that the fatal consequences of a separation of the members of Christ from his mystical body, the church seem to be deeply impressed on the mind of Paul. But then, good Sir, you should have cited some part of Paul’s writings as a proof of what you say; for, though you may suppose yourself to be of the true Apostolic Order, yet we dare not confide in what you say without proof. That the members of Christ’s mystical body differed with each other in some minor matters, even in the days of the apostle, might be easily proved from the chapter out of which you have taken your text, (1 Cor 1) and that the apostle exhorted them to be of one mind, &c, is clear; but then, Sir, this does not affect their real union to Christ and to one another. This blessed union can never be dissolved, either by men or devils. The divine Master, pointing to himself as the foundation, says, “Upon this rock will I build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt 16:18) And again, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” (Jn 6:37-40) Thus, Sir, you perceive that it is the settled will of the Father and of Christ that all which are given to Christ shall come unto him, and that he will not in any wise cast them out, nor lose one of them; but that they shall have eternal life, and he will raise them up at the last day. So that, whatever schisms you have to complain of in your church, there is no real schism in the church of Christ; for the gates of hell cannot prevail against that. Do not, mistake me, Sir. I do not mean to say that there arc none of the members of the established church of England which belong to the church of Christ. God forbid! I believe that some of the most eminent ministers of Christ have been in the establishment, and to this moment there are some of God’s ministers and many private Christians in that church; but I, am sure the characters I have in view will, agree with me in a firm belief that what Christ says is true, that his church abides safe, in spite of the gates of hell.

I am certain, Sir, that the church of Christ is in no real danger. Whether any particular party that either you or I stand up for be in danger of losing any of their earthly emoluments or not, the real church of Christ is safe. Blessed be God, she is in good hands, well provided for, and well taken care of. Whatever the Lord may have to do among men in the dispensations of his providence, he never will forget, nor for a single moment neglect, his church. He will make all things work together for her good. Hence, says the Lord of the house, “Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” (Jn 10:16) Now observe, Sir, the elect among the Gentiles were called sheep before they heard the voice of Christ, or were visibly brought into tho fold of Christ; and Christ says, “I have them.” Yes, ho had them in his heart, united unto him as members of his mystical body. And he further observes that he must bring them, and they shall hear his voice.

Thus you see, all goes upon safe ground, I must, and they shall. And by the same infallible rule, he also takes care of them; for, says he, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hands. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hands.” (Jn 10:27-29)

You say, “Such is the perfect model of the church Christ came to establish on earth; but that his design has been opposed, and, for a time, in a measure defeated, by the ignorance selfwill, and obstinacy of man, experience but too well demonstrates.” I quite agree, Sir, with you, that the design of Christ has been opposed, and that it is still opposed; but I am much mistaken if those men who are almost incessantly crying, “The church is in danger,” are not among the most violent enemies to the real church of Christ. Nevertheless, while I have a Bible in my hands, and the fear of God in my heart, I can never believe that his design has been in any measure defeated. “There are many devices in man’s heart; nevertheless, the counsel of the Lord that shall stand.” (Prov 19:21) Men may cut, and carve, and plot, and scheme, and set all their wit and powers against God and his church, but “the Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought; he maketh the devices of the people of none effect; the counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.” Thus, Sir, you perceive that though the people may oppose God’s counsel, they cannot defeat it. Let men or devils say or do what they will, God’s counsel shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure.

You complain of anarchy in the affairs of religion, and of a determined opposition to lawful, spiritual pastors. But then, Sir, you should have given some Scripture proof that you and your brethren are lawful, spiritual pastors, and the only lawful, spiritual pastors Britain has in it, and then you might have indulged yourself in complaining of a want of subordination, and in calling all ministers but yourselves, schismatics, &c. But I can, upon good authority, assure you that, without Scripture proof, thousands of Britons will pay no attention to what you say upon this business. Quotations from bishops, or even from Ignatius, will be of no avail, if Scripture proof be wanted; and the want of such proof, Sir, appears to be a very striking picture of your performance.

Should you over write again upon this subject, do tell us by what Scripture authority the Rev. C. W. Ethelstone, M.A., is to be a spiritual pastor of the Collegiate Church, Manchester, of the Church of Worthenbury, and of St. Mark’s, Cheetham. Now, Sir, be sure to point us to the chapter and verse from whence you derive the authority of being pastor over more people than you can possibly feed. Can you be surprised, Sir, at the want of subordination in the people, if their professed pastor feeds himself, and does not feed them? Read the 34th chapter of Ezekiel. It will do neither you nor your brethren any harm. The only remark I wish to make upon it is, that whoever pretends to be a pastor, and does not feed the sheep, is in an awful state indeed; and when God brings him to judgment, he will wish he had been anything sooner than a professed pastor. But if you read the whole of the chapter, you will perceive the Lord will not let his own sheep perish. No, Sir, he will take care of them; so that the real unity of the real church shall be maintained inviolable, let what will become of national establishments.

In looking over pages 5 and 6 of your work, I observe that the Act of Toleration by no means pleases you. According to your view of the matter, it has proved a source of great evil; and you inform us, that “when we are called before the tribunal of God, to be judged according to our works, it will avail us little to plead the Act of Toleration.” Very true, Sir, it will avail us but little; but I am under no apprehension of the Toleration Act ever being named at that tribunal, except it be to ask gentlemen of your description when Jehovah tolerated you to claim the exclusive right of liberty of conscience? Sure I am, that whatever schisms the Toleration Act has produced, from what you call the Christian church, the church of Christ, in all its limbs, joints, and parts, is still in union with his living Head, and a schism never did, nor ever will, take place there. The Lamb and his wife are inseparable. Asa faithful clergyman of the establishment once very beautifully observed, “He will not reign in heaven, and leave her behind.” It is the unalterable will of Christ that all that the Father hath given him shall be with him where he is, that they may behold his glory.

I have, Sir, in my possession a short speech of the late Earl of Chatham, just suited to the point in hand. I will place it before your eyes. It is entitled, “The late Earl of Chatham’s Speech, in Behalf of the Dissenters, in the year 1772.” Dr. Drummond, Archbishop of York, having called the dissenting ministers men of close ambition, Lord Chatham said that “this was judging uncharitably, and that whoever brought such a charge against them, without proof, defamed.”Here he paused, and then went on: “The dissenting ministers have been represented as men of close ambition. They are so, my Lords, and their ambition is to keep close to the college of fishermen, not of cardinals; and to the doctrines of inspired apostles, and not to the decrees of interested and aspiring bishops. They contend for a spiritual creed and a spiritual worship. We have a Calvinistic creed, a Popish liturgy, and an Arminian clergy. The Reformation has laid open the Scriptures to all; let not the bishops shut them up again. Laws in support of ecclesiastical power arc pleaded for, which it would shock humanity to execute. It is said that religious sects have done great mischief when they were not under restraint; but history affords proof that sects have never been mischievous when they were not oppressed and persecuted by the ruling church,” What do you think of the Earl of Chatham? Do you not seriously think it was a great pity that he was allowed to make a speech in the upper house so much to the point? For my own part, I am one of those dissenters that feel quite disposed to keep in the track his Lordship has here pointed out, though lean assure you, Sir, that even among dissenters the college of fishermen is not at this time so highly esteemed as it was some years ago.

You seem alarmed at the idea of laymen entering into the priest’s office, and performing the baptismal office, &c. If, by the baptismal office you mean sprinkling infants, (as I suppose you do,) I can assure you that, though I am a layman, I never did, and, if kept hi my right mind, I never will, perform that office; so that you shall have the real honour of that wonderful office to yourself for me. But I do preach, and I have the ambition to believe that I have my authority for so doing from the high court of heaven; nor do I see a single hint in all your performance which in the least weakens that idea.

You inform us that “Paul and Barnabas did not open their mouths unto the Gentiles, till the Holy Spirit had said, ‘Separate me Paul and Barnabas, for the work whereunto 1 have sent them.’ Philip, impressed with due humility, did not presume to baptize the eunuch till the angel of God authorized him to exercise this holy office, by informing him that so it pleased the Most High.” Now, Sir, it would have given some people much satisfaction, if, when you were writing upon this important subject, you had stated unto us when, and how, the Spirit authorized you to be separated to the work; and should you ever write again upon this subject, we hope you will not forget to inform us when the Holy Ghost quickened your soul, and brought the sentence of death into your conscience; what feelings you had under the fearful apprehension of Jehovah’s just displeasure against sinners; by what means hope first sprang up in your conscience; what were your feelings when the blessed Spirit directed your faith to the cross of Christ; what were the conflicts of your mind, and the impressions of your soul, which led you first to think of entering into the awful office of the ministry; and what portion of God’s word was sealed upon your heart, which brought you to conclude that the Lord had separated you to the important work of the ministry. Be assured of this, that if you are a stranger to the real work of the Holy Ghost in your soul, your state is awful. You may contend for; what you call the unity of the church as long as you please, but if you are a stranger to the unity of the Spirit, in the court of conscience, you must be a total stranger to the real nature of the unity of the church of Christ. No human learning, however groat, and however good in its place, can qualify any man to enter into the Spirit of Christ and his salvation. Hear, Sir, the language of unerring truth: ” Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of Clod; that we might know the things which am freely given to us of God, which things also we speak; not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth, comparing spiritual things with spiritual; but the natural man received not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Try yourself by this rule; it will be much safer ground to try yourself by than the propriety or impropriety of the Toleration Act. This is the word of God, and by this we must stand or fall.

You cannot think it an unreasonable request to desire you to give us some statement of the movings of the Holy Ghost, for I expect you solemnly declared to some bishop, before you were ordained by him, that you were moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you the office of a deacon or minister; and if you at that time were sincere, you cannot be a stranger to the movings of the Holy Ghost now; and sure I am, if you are not, you will take a pleasure in declaring the blessed work of God for and in your soul, and, like David, will be ready to say, “Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and 1 will declare unto you what he hath done for my soul.” But if you are a stranger to the blessed movings of the Holy Ghost, what an awful state you must be in, and what a dreadful prospect you must have before you. All your clerical orders will avail you little, nor screen you from the righteous judgment of Jehovah, if the movings of the blessed Spirit be wanting. I admit that it is possible for men to profess that they are moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon them the office of a deacon, when in reality they are only moved by the prospect of a fat living. But then, the case of such men must be awful beyond description. Indeed, there are men who have made such professions, whose conduct in the world is such that, if we must, judge of the movings of the blessed Spirit by their deportment, we must conclude that the Spirit moved them to live in drunkenness, wantonness, and whoredom. But of all the vile, presumptuous characters in the world, that man who has solemnly declared that he was moved by the Holy Ghost to preach, and then, having obtained a fat living, instead of preaching Christ crucified and feeding the flock of the Redeemer, is living in voluptuousness and uncleanness, is one of the worst; I say, such a man is one of the most vile reptiles the world has in it; and if he die in that state, will have the deepest hell, in spite of all his clerical dignity.

Were I disposed to expose some of the clerical order, I could name things which they practise, too filthy to be named. But I forbear; yet let such men think or say what they will about the honour of the church, they themselves are a disgrace to society, leaving religion out of the question. In the language of unerring truth 1 would say to such men, “Be not deceived, God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap; for he that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” (Gal 6:7,8)

But as you, Sir, appear to be a very strenuous advocate for the unity of the Established Church of England, we should be glad to find that you were, in very deed, united to the fundamental truths of the articles of that church, as well as to the fat livings. Read them over, Sir, and as you read, ask your conscience, “Do I sincerely believe and preach them?” and if, upon inquiry, you find that your ministry stands opposed to your articles, you must be guilty of schism yourself, or at most the whole of the church unto which you are united must be the walls, the fat, and the wool.

You tell us that it is a “fundamental error to conceive that clerical holiness is indispensably requisite to give validity to the administration either of baptism or the Lord’s Supper, “&c. But say what you will, if the clergy are total strangers to the cross of Christ, and their lives are scandalous, every spiritual man is sure to leave them, nor will all the reproach they can heap upon them, as schismatics, over unite them to their ministry.

I believe the want of spiritual life and upright conduct among the clergy has been a means of making more what you call schisms, from your church, than all the laymen in the kingdom. And when professed ministers of Christ can visit plays, balls, card-tables, and other carnal amusements, they do as much as in them lies to prove that the religion of Christ is not a whit better than the religion of Mahomet. The kingdom of Christ is not of this world. God’s ministers are to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Christ; not to indulge themselves in all the luxuries and wanton pleasures of the world. You, Sir, have all human advantages on your own side. If there were not something fundamentally wrong among you, why need you tremble at the weak efforts of a few poor laymen? Your fear argues a deficiency among you somewhere or other. If it be the will of God, may he teach you where the deficiency lies. I am quite sure you will never find it in the Toleration Act. Search the Scriptures, Sir, and compare your own conscience and ministry by that rule, and this will be making a fair start at finding out the cause.

You justly, observe that there is a fundamental difference in the tenets of Whitefield and Wesley, &c. But what of that, Sir? The church of Christ is but one blessed body; and as it, respects uniformity of sentiment, there, is as much want of that among the clergy as there is among dissenters. You cannot be unacquainted with this, I am quite certain that there are at least four different creeds preached by the clergy even in Manchester; and I am not sure there are not twice that number. So that if they are united together in one, the union must consist in the reading of the Liturgy, or something of the sort; for the doctrines they preach vary as much as those of any dissenters can do. I believe, Sir, thai as it respects the fundamental doctrines of the Church of England, 1 am more closely united to the main articles of that church than one out, of ten of the clergy are. I admit, Sir, that you outstrip me in union to the fat livings of the Church of England; for it seems from your title page you are sweetly united to a trinity of them, while I feel quite content to be far from them all.

But how comes it to pass that you advocate the cause of the national clergy of France, when, in page 17, you solemnly declare that the Church of Home had ceased to be apostolic, and, therefore, ought no longer to be catholic? Surely you must have forgotten yourself, or were determined to vindicate the authority of a national church, let it be of what kind it might. Perhaps, Sir, it might be a breach of charity to suppose that you would have no objection to enjoying the sweets of the livings of any kind of a national church; but be this as it may, it seems you are determined to do your best in supporting the standing order of an established clergy, whether they are apostolic or not.

I will not trouble you any longer, Sir, but will conclude my letter by observing that it is awful presumption in any man, learned or illiterate, to stand up in the name of God, as a minister of Christ, while his heart is unacquainted with the great principle of vital godliness. To God both you and I are accountable for our ministry. A few mouths will land us in a world of spirits, and a dreadful landing it will be, let us stand connected with what body of religious professors we may, if we are unacquainted with vital union to Christ; but if Christ be in us, the body is dead because of sin, but the spirit is life because of righteousness.

That the Holy Ghost may direct both you-and me, if it be his blessed will, into the great mysteries of the kingdom of God, and that we may be ministers indeed, is. Sir, the prayer of, Yours to serve in the cause of truth and uprightness’,

William Gadsby